Sleeping well in older age

10th March 2020

Sleeping well

Sleeping well in older age

There are times when we’d all love to hit pause on the ageing process. It can be a beautiful thing, but it can also bring a heap of frustrations – like aching limbs, reduced energy, and a few wrinkles! But disturbed sleeping patterns have to be up there as one of our biggest annoyances.

There’s no denying the restorative superpowers of sleep. It helps our mind to process the day; boosts our physical health by allowing our body to heal itself and promotes emotional wellbeing. It also keeps the heart healthy by reducing inflammation; lowers blood pressure and stress hormones; improves memory; helps to control weight issues, and reduces our risk of developing diabetes. Wow! No wonder we need a good night.

Which is why it’s so frustrating when our sleeping habits fall out of kilter.

Our sleeping evolution

There are a number of factors at play when our sleep patterns change in later life. We go to bed earlier and get tired faster than we used to, which means we usually wake up earlier, too. We also tend to sleep lighter as we age (entering deep sleep less often); perhaps because it’s harder to get comfortable, we’re less at ease, or we’re feeling the cold.

Trouble falling or staying asleep (or even sleeping too much) can be down to anything from restless leg syndrome, snoring and gastric reflux, to depression, taking certain medications, and other underlying health concerns.

Sleeping 7-9 hours is the norm, and while it’s worth remembering that everyone is different, not getting enough sleep can muddy your thoughts and leave you feeling emotionally fragile, as well as fatigued. And because insomnia can cause (as well as contribute to) different illnesses, it’s vital you speak to your GP if you’re really struggling.

Top 10 tips for a better night’s sleep

If your sleeping patterns are getting you down, there are plenty of steps you can follow to improve your rest.

  1. Pillow mist: Usually containing lavender or camomile, this herbal spray can help you to drift off more peacefully by calming your body at bedtime. Widely available at most pharmacies.
  2. A calming nightcap: Booze is best avoided before bed; it can make you tired to begin with, but the caffeine will have you waking in the night. Instead, opt for a warm, caffeine-free drink; such as camomile tea, warm milk, or any herbal concoction containing lavender or camomile.
  3. Reading before bed: Rather than watching TV until the lights go out, reading a good book can make for a better night’s sleep – relaxing your mind by separating sleep time from the stresses of the day.
  4. Not eating late at night: Your digestive system can have a big impact on your downtime. As well as making it harder to get to sleep, late-night snacking can negatively impact the quality of your sleep by disturbing your dreams.
  5. Nutrition: As well as when you eat, what you eat also plays its part. Eating too much chocolate can keep you awake because of the caffeine; whilst spicy or over-rich foods in the evening can cause acid reflux – making you uncomfortable, and sleep difficult.
  6. Exercise: Exercise goes hand-in-hand with nutrition; the more you look after yourself, the more benefits you’ll see. Taking part in some light exercise earlier in the day can get your body ready for a more restful night ahead.
  7. Write down your worries: One of the biggest culprits of a sleepless night is worrying – even small things seem big at night. To stop worries from interrupting your sleep, write a list of everything that’s on your mind before you settle down. It’ll help to clear your head before bed.
  8. Create a ‘worry box’: If you need to go one step further, a worry box can help. Imagine a box or chest; when a worry enters your mind, visualise placing it inside the box, close it, and choose a time to deal with it (for example after breakfast).
  9. Meditate: A calm and restful mind is more likely to enjoy a calm and restful night. There are lots of free guided meditations available at the library, online, and through apps like Spotify.
  10. Play calming music: A winding down ritual is an essential part of achieving better sleep; playing calming or classical music in the evening can get you in the right headspace to relax, unwind, and rest.

Unless it’s a medical condition that needs attention, try not to overthink the changes to your sleeping habits, as that will only keep you up at night! Implement some changes to your routine, and do your level best to embrace this next stage in your life.

You’ve earned it.

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